Campus ministry series profiles John Paul II Newman Center

By: By Jennifer Willems

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the sixth in a series profiling Catholic campus ministry at colleges located within the borders of the Diocese of Peoria.


NORMAL — Holiness is attractive. Pope John Paul II proved that to be true as he drew young people from around the world to a deeper love for and practice of their faith.

Among those who have been praying for his canonization, which will take place this Sunday, April 27, are students at the John Paul II Catholic Newman Center at Illinois State University. They will offer a Holy Hour at 2:30 a.m. in St. Robert Bellarmine Chapel, 501 S. Main St., and then watch the ceremony as it is televised from the Vatican.

The celebration continues at the noon Mass. A Holy Hour with confession and meditations on the message of Divine Mercy from St. Faustina Kowalska is planned from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

“We’re going to listen to him and then do what he asks: pray for mercy for the campus, mercy for the students, mercy for all those who still don’t know God’s love and mercy,” said Sister Silvia Maria, SCTJM, director of the John Paul II Catholic Newman Center.

They have also assembled a display of 15 panels covering their patron’s life and papacy, and how the Newman Center is trying to live out his legacy.

“One of the quotes he uses the most, which is from the Second Vatican Council, is that man cannot really find himself until he makes a sincere gift of himself,” Sister Silvia said. “We are continually trying to have the students learn how to do that.”

It starts by introducing the students to Jesus, she said, explaining that many of them have no idea who he is when they come to the John Paul II Newman Center.

“You can see how much the culture has entered into the lives of the students and their families,” Sister Silvia told The Catholic Post. “There’s no relationship with Jesus or the life-saving, healing gifts of the sacraments.”

If students do know the Lord, the Newman Center staff and campus ministers try to encourage them to deepen that relationship and their understanding of the Eucharist and the sacrament of reconciliation.

“Most are not in a good place right now because the culture is very much inside of us. Once they start seeing how liberating (the sacraments) can be, they want more. It happens naturally,” Sister Silvia said, noting that this is how students are drawn to eucharistic adoration.

“We ask, ‘How many of you have a Holy Hour?’ Most people who are brand new don’t even know what a Holy Hour is,” she said, adding that when they see their peers raising their hands, they don’t want to be left out. “It’s infectious.”

Currently 58 students have signed up for a Holy Hour in the Witnesses to Love adoration chapel.

“To me, that’s the greatest joy, because they want to be with Jesus,” she said. “They realize Jesus is here when I don’t know what to do, when I need guidance, when I have joys, when I have sorrows, when I have questions. There he is.”

There are also opportunities for praise and worship on Wednesday nights, and Bible study and a meal on Thursday nights. Friday night is the time the students come together for fun, but whoever wants to pray can do that, too.

“It’s a culture of love and life and that’s what we’re trying to create. That’s really JP2,” Sister Silvia said. “We’re trying to build a family.”

An important part of the Newman ministry is encouraging the students to use their gifts, whatever they might be, in the service of the community, she added.

“In all the different ways they serve, they’re using their gifts to change eternities,” Sister Silvia said. “Then they see that my little ‘yes’ helped somebody’s life. Maybe I can get bigger ‘yeses.’ How can I help the church? How can I bring others to the Lord?”

The goal is to help them understand that God has a plan for their lives and help them accept what God has in store for them, whether that’s the priesthood or religious life or marriage, she said.

Saying that the work is tiring but joyful, Sister Silvia wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We get front row seats, watching the Lord do his work,” she said.


John Paul II Catholic Newman Center

Director: Sister Silvia Maria, SCTJM
Chaplain: Father Tony Lee
Assistant Director: Sister Clara Maria, SCTJM
Campus Ministers: Alex Iadipaolo and Colleen Bailey
Catholic Students: Approximately 6,000
Mass Schedule: Sunday at noon and 7 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 5 p.m.; Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
Sacrament of Reconciliation: Available half an hour before each Mass and from 8 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday
Eucharistic Adoration: Tuesday, from 2 to 8 p.m.; Wednesday, from 8 to 9:30 p.m.; Thursday, from 2 to 5 p.m.; and Friday, from 12:30 to 9 p.m.

From the Director
“God has a plan for their lives. Jeremiah 29:11-14 speaks of that: ‘I know the plans I have for you.’ They don’t know that. No one has ever told them that and they’ve never asked. . . . The culture here is to discern what is God’s plan for your life and be not afraid of whatever that might be.”
— Sister Silvia Maria, SCTJM

From the Chaplain
“For many of those we serve it’s the first time for them to take personal responsibility for nurturing their faith. It is a privilege to walk with them and support them as they integrate their faith and academic studies. That isn’t always easy. But as John Paul II told us so often, ‘Do not be afraid.’ Newman ministry gives them the courage to say ‘yes’ to Jesus.”
— Father Tony Lee

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